TSCA: A Step Closer to Reform

On December 17, 2015, the Senate passed S. 697, the “Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” by unanimous consent and without any debate. This is another major step in the process toward achieving a revised and reformed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). In June, the House overwhelmingly passed its version of TSCA legislation (H.R.2576).  The next step is reconciliation of the provisions of the two bills through conference. Once reconciled, the final bill will be voted on by both the House and Senate and then sent to the president’s desk for his signature. We are hopeful this will be sometime early next year. The Society of Toxicology (SOT) TSCA Task Force will continue its efforts to assure that the science in the bill will advance chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.

Background

The federal law governing chemicals used in commerce in the United States affects every person and business, but few are aware of its importance to their lives or that it is outdated and in serious need of modernization.

That law, TSCA, was enacted by Congress when Gerald Ford was president in 1976 and has not been revised since. During that time, our knowledge and abilities to develop, evaluate, and manage chemicals has dramatically improved. Reform of TSCA offers an opportunity to take advantage of these advanced capabilities and ensure a revised law will enable application of future scientific and technological progress and that the best science is used to protect public health and the environment.

SOT’s Role

SOT, which is composed of scientists from across academia, government, and industry, will be on the front lines of implementing a revised TSCA. In 2010, through the formation of its TSCA Task Force, SOT committed to play an active role in helping to determine how the new law develops to best ensure the health and safety of all Americans. The very basis of chemical safety regulation—evaluating hazard, exposure, and risk—are core activities that toxicologists engage in daily and that underpin informed decision-making.

With its TSCA Task Force, SOT, through Congressional visits and briefings, written comments on draft bills, and responses to specific questions from Congressional staff, has sought to assure that draft legislation embodies the best science and allows for future advances. As scientists, we advocate for the science. We have not, and will not, engage on the commercial or political elements of the draft legislation that will, no doubt, also influence TSCA modernization. Our goal is simple—to ensure the best science is applied to protect public health and the environment.

SOT TSCA reform efforts have adhered to three main principles:

1. Ensure the revised legislation affords flexibility in selection of the best available science for generating and evaluating information used in the safety and risk assessment process.

2. Ensure protection of the authority of the US Environmental Protection Agency, working with the scientific community, to judge when and how to apply new techniques and methods.

3. Ensure the terms and concepts used in the legislative language that apply to the science of toxicology are consistent, accurate, and unambiguous.

Have Task Force Efforts Made a Difference?

While not the only scientific organization weighing in on TSCA reform, we believe that our Task Force’s efforts have made a difference.  Each succeeding draft of legislation has used more consistent and accurate language. Mandates for specific testing approaches that could “freeze” the science have largely disappeared. Risk-based approaches to safety assessment are founded on hazard and exposure. SOT is recognized as a “knowledgeable source” by both House and Senate staff.

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